Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Herdman, Robert
HERDMAN, ROBERT (1829–1888), painter, born at Rattray, Perthshire, on 17 Sept. 1829, was the fourth and youngest son of the Rev. William Herdman, minister of the parish, by a daughter of the Rev. Andrew Walker, minister of Collessie, Fifeshire. He was educated at the parish school of Rattray, and on the death of his father in 1838 the family removed to St. Andrews, where he studied for five sessions at the Madras College, gaining a bursary. He then entered the university of St. Andrews, passing through the full arts curriculum, and taking a high place in the various classes; he usually spent the summer months in sketching and painting at Rattray, though during 1846 he taught drawing for a time in St. Andrews. In the same year he attended the university for another session, and in June 1847 went to Edinburgh, where he studied art in the Trustees' Academy, then under the direction of John Ballantyne, R.S.A., and Robert Scott Lauder, R.S.A.; he gained prizes for shaded drawings and for drawing and painting from the life in 1848, 1850, 1851, and 1852. In 1854 he carried off the Royal Scottish Academy's Keith prize and bronze medal for the best historical work by a student in the exhibition; and in November of the following year went to Italy to prosecute his studies, returning in August 1856. Nine water-colour copies from important works by the old masters, which he executed at this time, were purchased by the Royal Scottish Academy, and are now preserved in their art collection. He again visited Italy in September 1868, remaining till March of the following year, and executing many water-colour studies of the pictures at Venice. He began to exhibit in 1850, showing ‘Excelsior,’ an illustration of Longfellow's poem, in the Royal Scottish Academy, where it was followed in 1851 by ‘Cain;’ and during the rest of his life, with the single exception of 1856, he contributed to every exhibition of the body, of which he was elected an associate in 1858 and an academician in 1863. His works were also frequently exhibited in the Royal Academy of London from 1861 to 1887, and he contributed to the exhibitions of the Glasgow Institute, and to those of the Scottish Society of Painters in Water-colours, of which he was a member.
After his first return from the continent he produced several Italian figure-pictures, but he soon devoted himself mainly to portraiture, in which he attained success and popularity. His female portraits in particular—among which may be named Mrs. Shand, 1866; Mrs. Simon Laurie, 1871; the Countess of Strathmore, 1876; Mrs. W. Horn, 1884; and Mrs. Hamilton Buchanan, 1885—are distinguished by much grace, refinement, and sweetness of colouring. His male portraits, many of which have been engraved, include D. O. Hill, R.S.A., 1870; David Laing, LL.D., 1874; Sir George Harvey, P.R.S.A., 1874; Thomas Carlyle (of which the artist executed two replicas), 1875; Sir Theodore Martin, K.C.B., 1876; the Duke of Sutherland, 1877; the Very Rev. Principal Tulloch, 1879; Sir Noel Paton, R.S.A., 1879; and Principal Shairp, 1886. In addition to portraits, Herdman produced many important figure-subjects from Scottish history, as well as from poetry and fiction, characterised by well-considered composition and free, unlaboured handling. The most important of these are: ‘After the Battle, a scene in Covenanting Times’ (engraved by Francis Holl, A.R.A., for the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland), 1870; ‘Interview between Jeanie and Effie Deans,’ 1872; ‘A Conventical Preacher arrested,’ 1873; ‘Lucy Ashton,’ 1874; ‘The First Conference between Mary Stuart and John Knox,’ 1875; ‘Charles Edward seeking shelter in the House of an Adherent’ (engraved by Robert Anderson, A.R.S.A., for the above association), 1876; ‘St. Colomba rescuing a Captive,’ 1883; ‘His Old Flag,’ 1884; and ‘Landless and Homeless,’ 1887. Four cabinet-sized pictures from the life of Queen Mary were published in 1867–8 as photographs by the Art Union of Glasgow, which in 1878 issued a similar series of photographs from pictures illustrating Campbell's ‘Poems;’ and various of the artist's works in addition to the two above named, were engraved in the publications of the Association for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Scotland. Another interesting class of Herdman's works comprises studies of single female figures, classical, rustic, or fancy, such as ‘Sibylla,’ 1872; ‘Penelophon,’ 1881; ‘Antigone,’ 1882; ‘Tympanistria,’ 1885; and ‘By the Woodside,’ 1885, works more or less ideal in aim, in which the artist's refinement and the delicacy of his flesh-painting are very distinctly visible. His landscapes are mainly in water-colours, done during autumn holidays in Rannoch or Arran, broad and direct in treatment, and with great purity of colouring. He was also favourably known as a flower-painter. He was a man of wide information and fine culture, a member of the Hellenic Society, Edinburgh, and a vice-president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. His genial manners, sound judgment, and upright character won for him the respect and affection of his brother artists.
Herdman died very suddenly in his studio, of heart disease, on 10 Jan. 1888. An ‘Address to the Students of the Board of Manufacturers' Art School,’ which he had spent the last evenings of his life in preparing, and which his death prevented him from delivering, was published in pamphlet form (Edinburgh, 1888). He is represented in the National Gallery of Scotland by ‘La Culla,’ his diploma work, and ‘After the Battle.’ A bust of Herdman by W. Brodie, R.S.A., and portraits by himself and by his son, Mr. Duddingstone Herdman, are in the possession of the family, and another oil portrait by his own hand is in the collection of artists' portraits formed by the late Mr. Macdonald of Kepplestone, Aberdeenshire.
[Parochial Register of Rattray; Attendance Book of Trustees' Art School; Minute Book of Board of Manufactures; Catalogues of Royal Scottish Academy, Royal Academy, Glasgow Institute, and Scottish Society of Painters in Water-colours; Sixty-first Report of Royal Scottish Academy; Art Property in the possession of the Royal Scottish Academy, 1883 (privately printed); memoranda in possession of family, information received from them, and personal knowledge.]